Monday, June 22, 2009

5 Days in the Territory with Candi

Hello everyone. I've been feeling a little left out of the blogging loop and wanted to add a few snaps of the last week or so when Candi came to visit us for a week on tour. Unfortunately Steffen wasn't able to come and we're sad that he missed out.

I won't rehash all the spots we visited as Andy did a comprehensive job on that already.

*Swimming at Sandy Creek falls a quick 1.7km scramble from our campsite. The water was frigid requiring the plunge (or fall in) method. Candi and I swam over to the falls before we heebie-jeebied ourselves out of it with talk of crocodiles. I found this walk somewhat challenging as I slipped in my best hiking thongs and took bark off my left ankle, hand and scored a stunning bruise on the back of my leg (it now comes in shades of purple, green and yellow).

*Good Morning and breakfast organisation in our homely little camp at Sandy Creek. This included phase 2 of damper baking as we were low on bread, which in turn involved the lighting of a fire. Luckily Candi is a fire bug.

*Candi dealing the breakfast spoils out to Andy. Yummy boiled eggs and fresh damper!

*Crossing Sandy Creek to get to the other side....because the sand looked nicer to sit on! We sat on it for about 10 seconds then made our way back across. It was quite hard to keep balance and ultimately I fell in. My new clumsiness was the source of much mirth in our camp.

*Crossing another creek. This walk also yielded the highest concentration of snakes thus far encountered on the trip. I very nearly stepped right on one.
*Contemplating swimming at Surprise Creek - again far too much talk of crocodiles gave us the heebie-jeebies and we contented ourselves to sitting in the waterfall instead. Poor us.
*Tropical sunset at Mindil Beach

The rest of the snaps are a collection taken from the crocodile tour we did which was....enlightening. We felt it justified our concerns about swimming in the various creeks and waterholes we'd chickened out of.

On Candi's last day with us, Friday, and with monumental hangovers we left Andy in his office ( a bit of a nightmare for the Payniac due to Telstra being down in Darwin) and set off to the explore the city. We ticked off most of the touristy spots quite quickly and walked the entire city in just hours. One of our first stops was to an historic building that turned out to be the old overland telegraph station and we were able to send a free telegram anywhere in Australia. Ours went to Mum and Dad. We visited various WWII memorials and Darwin bombing info before stopping at what was probably the highlight - Darwin Wave Pool. Oh boy did we want to have a go! Alas I wasn't wearing my swimmers and couldn't justify walking back to town to buy some so we went to the pub instead.

It was awsome to see Candi and get to spend some time with her. I think I nearly talked her ears off. We had a brilliant week with much laughter and jocularity. By the end of the week we were exhausted and the noisiest caravan park in the world afforded us little and fitful rest.

We've spent the weekend recovering at a place called Corroboree Park on the highway between Darwin and Kakadu which has great reception so Payniac can finish his work before heading into Kakadu and on through Arnhem Land to the Cobourg Peninsula for the week.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Tops off, tools down. Top times with CJ in the Top End

Yesterday we spotted our favourite newspaper headline of the trip so far.

According to the NT News, topless European sunbathers are distracting the people building the new Waterfront development to such a degree that the project is now miles behind schedule.

We've had a great week with Candice in tow. Lots of action and a good chance to show off what we've been getting up to over the last 9 months.

We made an early exit from the Big 4, did a quick bit of shopping and then headed back out to Litchfield National Park, stopping en-route for a relaxing dip at Berry Springs. This time we entered Litchfield on the dirt road from the north and we made our first stop in the park proper at Wangi Falls.

The falls themselves were lovely but the place was absolutely crowded. Heaps of tour buses, and the camp ground was chockers. Luckily our plan was to take on the Reynolds River 4WD track again and set up camp in the southern part of the park.

We left the crowds behind and bagged an awesome campspot at Sandy Creek. The campground was much shadier than Surprise Creek (where we'd stayed on the weekend) as there hadn't been any hazard reduction burning. A half hour walk from the campground was the delightful Tjaynera Falls, and other than an older couple quickly putting some clothes on as we approached, we had the place to ourselves. The water was a bit refreshing for me to get in.

Our first whole day in Litchfield saw us lazing around, playing occasional frisbee, and getting on the beers early.

We had three attempts at damper while we were at Sandy Creek. The camp oven wasn't flat for the first one so the damper was horribly charred on one side. The second one (pictured) at breakfast time was great until Candice had the seemingly good idea to put the leftovers back on the dying coals to keep it warm while we went for a walk. The coals turned out to still have some life in them so that one was charred all over when we got back three hours later. Third time however was the charm, which was a good job as it used the last of our self-raising flour.

Our second whole day at Litchfield we packed up the rooftop tent and headed off for some sightseeing. We'd not gotten very far though before Candice took a turn for the worse and jumped out of the car for a quick spew and a lie down. Luckily she chose a good spot close to a crossing so I could pass on some sageful advice to people taking it on, camera at the ready in case anyone came to grief.

Once Candi had recovered we checked out Florence Falls before it got too crowded but Buley Rockhole was already full, so we headed back down to the 4WD track and visited the Blythe Homestead and then down to Surprise Creek where again we had the falls and swimming holes to ourselves.

A section of the Reynolds River 4WD track.

The obligatory termite mound shot. This one was at least 15ft tall. Apparently the air moving up inside the column provides cool ventilation for the folks living downstairs. Clever little things these termites.

We got up early on Thursday and made for the Buley rockholes before the tour buses arrived. I got a message from work to say I could hold off on what I needed to do until Friday so we then made a quick dash to a crocodile boat tour on the Adelaide River.

I didn't get any pictures of the boat we were on, but it was lot smaller than the one we walked through to get on to it. We had the gun seats at the front of the boat and had prime position to watch the jumping crocodile action. The biggest croc we saw was around 4.5m. And he was only a few feet away from us. Scary stuff.

At the end of the jumping croc tour we were treated to a Whistling Kite feed with them lining up to take turns to sweep down to catch scraps of meat.

These birds have been such a feature of our trip and it was awesome to get such a good opportunity to take some snaps at relatively close quarters.

After the croc tour we dashed back to the world's noisiest caravan park (Darwin Big 4) to quickly set up camp, have a shower, scull a quick goldie, and then catch the bus in to the sunset markets at Mindil Beach. The general merchandise was a bit disappointing and despite plans to spend up big, the girls had to satisfy themselves sampling some of the 1200 menu items available in the numerous food stalls.

I tried to engage the operator of a foot detox stall ($40 for half an hour) to get his explanation of how toxins are supposed to find their way out through your feet to turn the water dirty but he was busy scamming a couple of gullible punters and I couldn't make eye contact. (Pretty sure he wouldn't have been too keen for me to stick my filthy feet into his machine in any event.)

After gorging ourselves on some more snacks we headed down to the beach (along with the rest of Darwin) to watch the sun go down. I googled 'best pub in Darwin' from my phone and once the sun had set we walked up to the town centre to check out 'Bar & Bikini'. The girls weren't keen when we got there and we didn't end up going in. Turned out Bar & Bikini was more Bikini than Bar and also had the 'Honeypot' brothel next door.

Instead we pushed on to 'The Tap on Mitchell' for a few hours of concentrated drinking time and some top people watching.

The girls did some more Darwin sightseeing yesterday and left me to catch up on some outstanding Challenger commitments. Telstra wrecked my day by continually crashing my internet connection and losing my work.

Very frustrating and there were a few other angry punters at the Big 4 who kept dropping by to see if I was having any luck. A crazy lady from two tents down was convinced it was a conspiracy and that Big 4 were 'jamming' the Telstra signal.

She kept repeating the 'jamming' claims despite me pointing out that (i) Big 4 weren't selling wireless access at this park so why would they and moreover (ii) Telstra had confirmed to another punter after 8 phone calls to the helpdesk that there was a problem with our local tower that might take a week to fix.

I finally lost my cool with trying to work around 4pm, sculled a couple of beers and headed in to town to catch up with VJ and CJ at Buzz Cafe - a fancy restaurant overlooking the harbour at Cullen Bay. We'd been pretty disappointed with the last few meals out, possibly caused by the weight of expectation. Eating out is a bit of a treat these days, especially compared to the old four or five times a week regime we'd adopted back in Newtown. Buzz Cafe however did not disappoint and we had a delicious end to the day. Apparently they sell more Barrumundi than any other restaurant in the world. They also have one of those one way mirror urinals in the gents so you can pee against a see through window overlooking other diners. OK in a pub environment but a bit weird in a restaurant.

We reluctantly farewelled Candi at 7am this morning and after stocking up at the book exchange and Woolies we pushed on to the Corroborree Inn caravan park (with working wireless internet) on the Arnhem Highway. Our permit to cross the top corner of Arnhem Land was approved and after exploring some of the local wetlands and a sneak preview of Kakadu we'll be heading up the Cobourg Peninsula for some quiet time. Telstra won't be wrecking any of our time up there as we'll be at least 300km from the nearest phone tower. Peace and quiet at last!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Back into the Territory

We're currently in the Big 4 caravan park in Darwin awaiting the arrival of La Candice, who is joining us on tour for a week to find out what we get up to.

We've been a bit busy and out of coverage so have fallen a week behind with the blog, so it's just as well she booked a flight that doesn't get here until 1am which means I can use my lost sleep time to try and catch up with things.

We're not sure that Candi has stayed in a caravan park before, but I am pretty confident that she's going to not be getting a fantastic first impression so maybe it's a good thing she'll be arriving when it's dark. The Darwin Big 4 is unlike any park we've stayed in so far. It is on the scale of your typical UN Somalian refugee camp and being right on the busy Stuart Highway is probably as noisy.

To make matters worse, they've put us right next to the men's dunnies. I've been working here for most of the afternoon and evening to soundtrack of grunts and groans, flushes and lid closing coming from the semi open air stalls about 10m to my left. On the plus side, the park does have a jumping pillow which should be pretty available in the morning as it's not school holidays at the moment.

The good news about needing to revisit our route due to the unscheduled backtrack to Kununurra was that it turned out that Gregories National Park was pretty much closed.

Our revised itinerary took us firstly to Keep River National Park, just over the NT border, a beautiful quiet spot and probably the quietest campground we've had (other than ones we've had to ourselves).

We got to see our first cane toad trap (empty) and tackle a pretty decent hike during the heat of the day to see some rock art and get some good views of the Bungly type rocks.

We also got to have a beautiful campfire and some more of Ness's damper (this time accompanied with some snags).

I also managed to snap some boab sunrise shots. Our photo collection is now seriously out of control - 16,500 and counting. It's going to take years to go through them after we get back.

After Keep River, we stopped at about the only camp site that was open in Gregories National Park - essentially a road side rest area with easily the worst smelling dunnies of the trip. I spent a couple of hours trying to catch a barra in the mighty Victoria river while keeping an eye out for any passing salties. That scene of the wildebeast being taken by a croc was never too far from my mind.

We stopped at Timber Creek so Ness could find some local info on good places to spot a Freudian Grinch (aka Gouldian Finch). Alas it seems that the local population here has been decimated by Blue Winged Kookaburras, who apparently find them quite delicious.

After stocking up on supplies in Katherine we quickly moved on and set up camp in Nitmiluk National Park at Katherine Gorge.

In one of our tourist brochures Katherine is claimed, amongst other things, to be an ideal base for exploring the Kimberley. That is a bit like saying that London is a good base for exploring Paris but I let it go without a letter to the council.

It may have been the 13km walk in the heat of the day, but for me Katherine Gorge proved a gorge too far. We've just been through so many over the last couple of months that I really don't appreciate them as I should. Luckily we've managed to secure a permit to go well off the beaten track up to Cobourg Peninsula once we've dispatched Candice next weekend. This will provide us with a tropical beach paradise for a change of scenery, so we'll be refreshed and ready to take on Kakadu.

Once we'd recovered from the stiffness from our previous days exertion we headed back to Katherine for a fairly major restock and had the pleasure of bumping into Wally & Margaret, fellow Dangar Islanders, who are on an 8 week sortie with Margaret's sister and her three dogs. They'd been the only witnesses to a fairly bad accident further down the Stuart Highway which had seen a caravan turn over and roll several times. They'd administered first aid to the passenger and driver and had dropped in to Katherine nick to give a statement. They'd sensibly called in fairly early in the day as Katherine has all the right ingredients for a lively station.

This provided a good opportunity to catch up on Island gossip and it was great to hear how well the cooperative is going - Wally did a good recruitment job on Ness who it now seems will be volunteering her time to cook breakfast on Saturday mornings for hungry islanders heading down to the shop for a feed and read.

Our timing for Edith Falls / Leilyn could not have been better. After a brief bit of cardio vascular work courtesy of our new frisbee we headed off for a talk/slideshow with the local park ranger. Some of the traditional owners were also present and they provided the audience with some helpful insights including what to do if one happens to hit a kangaroo (put it in the back of the car and drop it off at the nearest community where they'll make sure it doesn't go to waste).

There was a bit of fracas following the presentation and there was clearly some conflict amongst the traditional owners about whether they should come along and support such talks.

I'm sorry to still be only to say that about the only strong understanding I have about the NT Intervention is that it's common name is completely inappropriate. Say 'intervention' to most Sydneysiders, and they'd think of maybe Joey, Monica and Ross taking Chandler to one side and suggesting he goes a bit easier on the prescription painkillers. Amongst other things that have caught the eye of the United Nations, the NT Intervention has suspended the application of the Racial Discrimination Action Act. The basic human rights of our indigenous brothers and sisters continue to be neglected to an appalling degree and it is to our shame that yet again we've applied a one-size fits all approach to trying to resolve the seemingly unsolvable.

The walk up to the top of Edith Falls was really worthwhile. Great views, and great bird-nerding opportunities for VJ.

Morning steam from the Douglas Hot Springs. A delightful campground, clearly a favourite with the locals, as well as our first night in a campground with a skilled Accordian player.

You had to choose your spot in the springs carefully as the water bubbles out at around 60C.

From Douglas, we rejoined the Daly River road before taking the Reynold River 4WD track into Litchfield National Park. Learning from our lucky escape with Gregories National Park, Ness had checked online and the road had recently reopened following the wet season. We'd passed signs indicating that the road was still closed, but the one at the gate said it was open so after letting some puff out of the tyres we were back off road.

We'd only gone a few kms before we had to get out our recovery gear. Luckily it was to help out some seppos who'd got bogged after taking a wrong turn on a river crossing. This was new territory for us - the route had been fairly obvious for all our previous water crossings. Not so here, and you're not supposed to wade across due to crocodiles, so it can be a bit hit or miss. Exciting stuff.

The ever changing landscape of the Reynold River area was amazing. Huge fields of 'magnetic' termite mounds up to 15 feet high, even more dramtic where backburning had cleared the heffalump grass which at times was as high as the car.

Inspecting leg 1 of the Reynold River Crossing. A three stage crossing involving a sharp right to climb onto an island in the middle of the river, followed by a deeper and softer second section.

We took risk with the crocs as there was no one around to pull us out of the water if we got stuck and after discussing strategy I jumped in and gave it my best effort.

A little bit further right here would have probably meant less water in the car.

Once you've completed a crossing it's pretty satisfying (if they're around) watching a few other people go through a crossing just to see how deep the water gets.

And so to Darwin, for tonight only and then we're taking Candice back to Litchfield for some more 4WD adventures. If she doesn't read this in the morning we might be able to convince her to check out some of the creek depths for us (just joking Steffen, she'll almost certainly come back to you in one piece ...).

PS we got a nice email from our Ossie (east German) friends Jan & Gerit who we met in Exmouth. They were seeking to explain why the central Europeans are always in such a rush to get their kit off and gave us a link to a Spiegel article. They also gave me a google translation but as I'm new to linking from the blog you'll have to work out what it all means for yourself!